August 6, 2007
MONICA MEHTA, M.D., PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, AND PHYSICAL MEDICINE AND REHABILITATION SERVICES OF HUDSON COUNTY, P.A., AND CENTER FOR EVALUATION AND TREATMENT OF ORTHO AND NEURO DISORDERS, A/S/O VIRELLA CLARK, PLAINTIFFS,
ENCOMPASS INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County, L-4878-03.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued May 9, 2007
Before Judges Lefelt, Parrillo and Sapp-Peterson.
Plaintiff Monica Mehta appeals from the March 29, 2006 order of the Law Division denying her motion, pursuant to Rule 4:50-1, to reopen and to vacate the order entered March 15, 2005 in which the court granted partial summary judgment in favor of defendant, Encompass Insurance Company, in connection with its counterclaim. We affirm.
The events leading up to plaintiff's motion for relief from judgment arose out of defendant's refusal to pay plaintiff, the owner of three medical entities, for medical services performed by plaintiff on behalf of defendant's insured, Virella Clark, who had been involved in a motor vehicle accident in 1998. While still insured by defendant, Clark was involved in two additional accidents in 2001 and 2002 for which she was also treated by plaintiff. When defendant refused to pay personal injury protection (PIP) benefits in connection with the 2001 and 2002 accidents, Clark filed a complaint in the Law Division on January 22, 2003, seeking compensation for her personal injuries against the alleged tortfeasor from the January 2001 accident as well as against defendant for PIP benefits. Three weeks earlier, plaintiff instituted a subrogation action in the Special Civil Part seeking compensation against defendant for treatment allegedly rendered to Clark. Since the portions of the two complaints overlapped, Clark dismissed her PIP claim against defendant in the personal injury action, enabling Clark to pursue benefits directly against defendant. Defendant filed its answer to Clark's complaint on March 10, 2003. The court entered an order dated May 9, 2003, consolidating the two complaints.*fn1
In the Fall of 2004, after deposing Clark and plaintiff, defendant filed a counterclaim against plaintiff and her business entities alleging violations of the New Jersey Insurance Fraud Prevention Act (Fraud Act), N.J.S.A. 17:33A-1 to -30; common law fraud; and equitable fraud. Among the relief sought by defendant was a declaration that the Encompass policy was void as it related to Clark's direct claims and plaintiff's subrogation claims. After a number of adjournments, trial was scheduled for March 14, 2005.
In early February 2005, defendant filed a motion for partial summary judgment on the Fraud Act claim. Defendant alleged that plaintiff submitted two pre-certifications dated February 23, 2001, and February 27, 2002, which contained material misrepresentations. Specifically, defendant claimed that in response to the inquiry whether Clark had prior injuries, plaintiff wrote "none" and then affixed her signature to both pre-certifications. Defendant contended that in addition to violating the Fraud Act, plaintiff also breached the terms of the policy issued to its insured. Relying upon Longobardi v. Chubb Ins. Co. of N.J., 121 N.J. 530 (1990), defendant argued that because plaintiff breached the terms of the policy, it had no obligation to pay for services plaintiff provided. Defendant also alleged plaintiff engaged in double-billing.
Plaintiff, in opposition to the motion, certified that a secretary had incorrectly filled out the forms for both the 2001 and 2002 accidents and signed plaintiff's name on the pre-certifications without plaintiff's authorization. Plaintiff also argued that at the time the pre-certifications were submitted, defendant possessed Clark's medical records, was aware of Clark's prior injuries, knew the "none" responses on the pre-certifications were mistakes, and never paid plaintiff for the fees she sought. As such, plaintiff argued defendant sustained no losses, no damages, and thus no fraud occurred. Additionally, plaintiff denied double-billing for the treatment provided to Clark and claimed that any appearance of double-billing was attributable to Clark's mistaken memory.
On March 4, 2005, the motion judge granted defendant's motion and delivered her opinion orally from the bench:
The Court is satisfied . . . that [defendant] . . . is entitled to the relief sought. Based on the evidence advanced, this Court is able to find that [plaintiff] has materially breached the terms of the policy. And the Court by finding that, finds that the policy is void [retroactive to the 2001 accident] as to the claim in this complaint.
As to their second point, the Court finds that there is evidence that there has been a violation of the Fraud Act, and the defendant . . . certainly has a right to seek damages. There is no question that . . . there is evidence of liability under the Fraud Act. . . . [T]here is no evidence that has been advanced that contradicts the evidence advanced by the movant in this matter.
Although the motion judge placed her opinion on the record on March 4, 2005, the order was not signed until March 15, 2005. In the interim, a flurry of negotiations between the parties took place, beginning with a March 7 telephone call between plaintiff's counsel, Ralph J. Pocaro, and defense counsel, Edward J. Rebenack. Pocaro advised Rebenack that plaintiff had authorized him to settle defendant's counterclaims for $25,000-$30,000. Rebenack told Pocaro he would discuss the matter with his client. On that same day, Pocaro wrote a letter to the court objecting to the form of the summary judgment order. Specifically, Pocaro advised the court that defendant had notice of Clark's pre-existing injuries and attached copies of medical reports to support this contention. Also on March 7 Rebenack submitted to the court a response to Pocaro's letter. Rebenack urged the court to sign the proposed order, noting that the objection did not assert that the proposed order failed to reflect the court's ruling but rather was an objection based upon the merits, for which the appropriate remedy was a formal motion for reconsideration pursuant Rule 4:49-2.
The next day, Pocaro and Rebeneck had several telephone conversations during which they negotiated the amount plaintiff would pay in settlement, ultimately settling on $40,000. Pocaro requested that defendant consent to vacating the partial summary judgment order and also refrain from referring the case to the Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor. Rebenack advised Pocaro his client would not consent to the requests.
Later on March 8, Rebeneck faxed Pocaro draft releases and written confirmation of the terms of the settlement agreement.
In his cover letter, Rebenack advised Pocaro that "[d]uring our conversation this morning, you requested that I consent to vacate the summary judgment ruling. I advised you that I cannot consent to same and that I intend to obtain the order. I will provide you with a copy of same upon my receipt." Pocaro then called Rebenack, renewing his request that defendant consent to vacate the summary judgment order. Rebenack again conveyed defendant's refusal. Pocaro then asserted that plaintiff would not pay the settlement monies previously agreed upon. Rebenack then faxed a letter to Pocaro dated March 9, reiterating defendant's position and his intention to file a motion to enforce settlement and a second motion for summary judgment alleging additional Fraud Act violations.
Rebenack claims Pocaro called him later on March 9 to inform him that the draft releases were being sent back with proposed modifications and that plaintiff would not be seeking to vacate the summary judgment order. Apparently, the proposed modifications were in plaintiff's handwriting. She wanted an amendment reflecting that her suit against defendant only addressed the 2002 accident, not the 2001 accident, and a clause stating that the release was not an admission of liability on the part of plaintiff. Defendant agreed to these modifications.
By letter of March 10, plaintiff's counsel forwarded the executed release as amended and a check for $40,000 to defense counsel. By separate letter, plaintiff's counsel advised the court of the settlement. Plaintiff requested that the court amend the proposed order to reflect that there was no longer a double-billing claim against plaintiff in light of a certification executed by Clark that Pocaro had attached to his correspondence. In the certification dated March 9, Clark stated that "although I stated in my deposition that I did not receive a [TENS] machine, I did indeed receive the same in 2001 given to me by Dr. Monica Mehta, MD." The March 15 order signed by the motion judge did not include the requested amendment. Rather, the order stated that the "[c]court considered objection to this order, but finds no basis to change this order which properly reflects [the] court's ruling. Objection really seeks reconsideration or modification for which formal motion is necessary."
Thereafter, plaintiff, through Pocaro and a number of different attorneys, unsuccessfully attempted to engage defense counsel in post-settlement negotiations related to vacating the partial summary judgment order. By letter dated March 31, Pocaro instructed Rebenack not to file the stipulation of dismissal because plaintiff intended to file a motion to set aside the order. Eric Katz, who subsequently substituted in as plaintiff's counsel, was also copied on this letter. That motion was not filed at that time. Instead, on April 14, Pocaro filed the stipulation of dismissal with prejudice that Rebenack had previously prepared. It was not until seven months later on November 30, that plaintiff filed a motion seeking relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 4:50-1. By then, plaintiff was represented by Katz. Although the motion was originally returnable December 16, for reasons not set forth in the record, it was not heard until March 29, 2006.
Plaintiff's counsel argued that relief from judgment was appropriate on a number of grounds, including mistake and excusable neglect under section 1(a) of the rule because plaintiff did not understand the ramifications of the partial summary judgment order based upon assurances from her former attorney that she had nothing to worry about from the fraud judgment because she had satisfied the judgment and that in any event he could not represent her on any appeal because of his poor health.
Plaintiff's counsel also argued that relief from judgment was appropriate under section 1(b) because of "newly discovered evidence that just came up in the opposition papers that were submitted by Encompass, where they conceded that they never even relied upon the one document which your Honor found constituted the fraud in this case, the pre[-]certification form."
Finally, counsel argued that under the catchall section of the rule, 1(f), any other reason justifying relief from the order, that there was no evidence before the court in the form of certifications, affidavits, or depositions from any "Encompass representatives indicating that they relied upon these [pre-certification] forms or that they were material in making their coverage decisions" and plaintiff had acted diligently to procure substitute counsel, but could not do so in time to file a Rule 4:49-2 motion.
Plaintiff's former attorney, Pocaro, also submitted a certification in support of plaintiff's motion in which he claimed, Dr. Mehta had agreed to a settlement of $40,000 provided that the Judgment was vacated.
Mr. Rebenack had consistently stated that he had no objections to the Judgment to be vacated provided that the settlement was made with a payment of $40,000.00 and charges against Encompass were dropped.
I was in contact with the Clerk of the Court and forwarded letters which indicated that the judgment would be vacated after the judgment was paid.
After the Order for Judgment was entered, and the monies were paid by Dr. Mehta, Mr. Rebenack would not vacate the Judgment.
I told Mr. Rebenack that he should vacate the Judgment as he had agreed and that a Motion would be filed if he did not agree to vacate the Judgment.
He refused to do so and has acted in Bad Faith.
I did not file an appeal or Motion on this matter since I have had a triple-heart bypass and a back operation and I am presently confined full-time to a wheelchair.
Defendant argued that plaintiff's moving papers misrepresented the circumstances surrounding settlement negotiations. Defendant's opposition included certifications from defense counsel, Rebenack, and defendant's representative, Lisa Margolin, as well as a transcription of a voice mail plaintiff purportedly left for Margolin on or about March 9. In the voice mail, plaintiff stated,
Hi, Ms. Margolin, Dr. Mehta speaking. I know that you are surprised to receive this call, but I am calling you to urge you to please, please, try to help me out and if it's possible please to help vacate the order that was, uh, received, that was made by the Judge against me, uh, I would -- I would truly, truly appreciate it if you were to do that and advise your lawyer to act accordingly. I know that this is a tall order but I -- I am a professional and I know that I have not done anything wrong, and I hope you will understand it if the question of my profession and I truly value my reputation. Would you please, therefore, consider this as a very, very, very great request that I am making of you to advise your lawyer, Mr. Rebenack, to vacate the Order. Please. I have already sent you the check for $40,000 as agreed. I beg you to please do this for me, if you don't mind.
Please. Thank you so much. We will do it and the Judge will also vacate the Order if you were to give the consent. I truly cajole you to please consider this in great earnest. Thank you. My home number is 908-668-6833. The office number is 201-656-4324. Thank you. Bye. I am not allowed to talk to your lawyer. Therefore, I am calling you because plaintiffs are allowed to talk to each other, so I know that I am not doing anything wrong by calling you.
Again, I -- please, please request you to consider this, think it over, and please advise your lawyer. Bye.
The motion judge denied plaintiff's motion, finding that the agreement was comprehensive with no reservations. The judge also noted that although plaintiff wanted to vacate the partial summary judgment order, she did not want to set aside the settlement agreement: "This plaintiff wants to eat her cake and have it. She does not want to be put back in a position where this defendant could pursue whatever remedies are available in their counterclaim." The judge further noted that the fact that plaintiff had personally added a no-liability clause to the release "causes the Court to know that [she] understood the ramifications because nothing else explains the ratcheting up, the increase" in settlement efforts.
The court added the following handwritten "supplement/correction" to the order itself:
Decision by plaintiff to leave settlement undisturbed is not in itself fatal to motion. In 3/9/05 call to [defendant], plaintiff expresses concern regarding the impact on her professionally. Further, the post-judgment offers to pay more money to [defendant] in exchange for voluntary vacation of partial summary judgment satisfies Court that plaintiff fully understood the "ramifications" of the partial summary judgment.
At all times plaintiff was represented by counsel of her choosing.
The release signed by plaintiff and witnessed by her attorney was clear on its face. The parties mutually released each other from all claims and properly relied upon same as final disposition of the entire matter. This Court finds no miscarriage of justice here. Plaintiff does not seek to disturb settlement as dismissal of counterclaim by [defendant] relieves plaintiff of exposure to other claims, as preserved in 3/15/05 partial summary judgment order.
On appeal, plaintiff raises the following points for our consideration:
THE TRIAL COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN DENYING THE MOTION TO VACATE THE PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT.
THE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT DOES NOT BAR VACATING THE PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT.
THE MOTION COURT ABUSED ITS DISCRETION IN DENYING THE APPLICATION OF PLAINTIFF TO REOPEN THE PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT UNDER [RULE] 4:50-1.
A. THE ORDER MUST BE RE-OPENED ON GROUNDS OF EXCUSABLE NEGLECT AND MISTAKE.
B. THE ORDER MUST BE REOPENED ON GROUNDS OF NEW EVIDENCE.
C. RELIEF FROM THE ORDER IS JUSTIFIED UNDER THE TOTALITY OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
THE MOTION JUDGE ERRED AS A MATTER OF LAW IN ENTERING AN ORDER THAT STATED THAT THE PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT SHALL REMAIN IN FULL FORCE AND EFFECT.
We review a trial court's order denying relief from judgment in accordance with our standard of review. "A motion under Rule 4:50-1 is addressed to the sound discretion of the trial court, which should be guided by equitable principles in determining whether relief should be granted or denied[,]" and "[t]he decision granting or denying an application to open a judgment will be left undisturbed unless it represents a clear abuse of discretion." Hous. Auth. of Morristown v. Little, 135 N.J. 274, 283 (1994).
Rule 4:50-1 provides,
On motion, with briefs, and upon such terms as are just, the court may relieve a party or the party's legal representative from a final judgment or order for the following reasons: (a) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (b) newly discovered evidence which would probably alter the judgment or order and which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 4:49; (c) fraud (whether heretofore denominated intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party; (d) the judgment or order is void; (e) the judgment or order has been satisfied, released or discharged, or a prior judgment or order upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable that the judgment or order should have prospective application; or (f) any other reason justifying relief from the operation of the judgment or order.
The rule applies to voluntary dismissals entered upon stipulation. See Miller v. Estate of Khan, 140 N.J. Super. 177 (App. Div. 1976). Relief under this rule, however, is not intended to serve as an alternative to filing a timely appeal nor reconsideration of an interlocutory order. See Wausau Ins. Co. v. Prudential Prop. and Cas. Ins. Co. of N.J., 312 N.J. Super. 516, 518 (App. Div. 1998).
Here the motion judge recognized that the voluntary dismissal and mutual releases comprising the parties' settlement agreement disposed of all issues and acted as a final judgment. The court was of the view that plaintiff invoked Rule 4:50-1 not to set aside the settlement agreement and voluntary dismissal, but, rather, to have the interlocutory order granting partial summary judgment vacated.
Plaintiff offers no authority for application of Rule 4:50-1 under these circumstances. Indeed, the law is contrary. "A party may not seek appellate review of an adverse interlocutory order without seeking relief from the outcome of the litigation as embodied in the judgment." Grey v. Trump Castle Assoc., L.P., 367 N.J. Super. 443, 448 (App. Div. 2005) (quoting Magill v. Casel, 238 N.J. Super. 57, 62 (App. Div. 1990)).
Between the entry of the March 15, 2005 order granting partial summary judgment and the filing of the stipulation of dismissal with prejudice on April 14, 2005, plaintiff had nearly one month to seek reconsideration of the court's decision pursuant to Rule 4:49-2, but chose not to do so. See Pressler, Current N.J. Court Rules, comment 1 on R. 4:49-2; Johnson v. Cyklop Strapping Corp., 220 N.J. Super. 250, 261 (App. Div. 1987), certif. denied, 110 N.J. 196 (1988) ("The inherent power of the court to modify its own interlocutory orders prior to the entry of final judgment has long since been recognized in New Jersey."). Moreover, contrary to her claim that the delay in seeking relief was due in part to her inability to retain new counsel, we note, as did defense counsel in his certification opposing the motion, that Pocaro's March 31 letter to Rebenack requesting that defense counsel not file the stipulation of dismissal because plaintiff intended to move to set aside the order was copied to Katz, who several months later represented her in the Rule 4:50-1 motion.
The release executed by the parties expressly barred further litigation of any aspect of the matter. The release provided, in pertinent part,
I release and give up any and all claims and rights which I may have against you which relate to treatment and medical services rendered to Virella Clark. This releases all claims, including those of which I am not aware and those not mentioned in this Release[.]
As consideration for making this Release, [defendant has] dismissed all claims set forth in the Counterclaim and executed a mutual Release. I agree that I will not seek anything further including any payment from [defendant].
It is well-established that "[t]he settlement of litigation ranks high in our public policy." Jannarone v. W. T. Co., 65 N.J. Super. 472, 476 (App. Div.) (citing Judson v. Peoples Bank & Trust Co., 25 N.J. 17, 35 (1957)), certif. denied sub nom., Jannarone v. Calamoneri, 35 N.J. 61 (1961). See also Puder v. Buechel, 183 N.J. 428, 437 (2005); Peskin v. Peskin, 271 N.J. Super. 261, 274 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 137 N.J. 165 (1994). This honors "the notion that the parties to a dispute are in the best position to determine how to resolve a contested matter in a way which is least disadvantageous to everyone." Peskin, supra, 271 N.J. Super. at 275 (quoting Dep't of Pub. Advocate v. N.J. Bd. of Pub. Util., 206 N.J. Super. 523, 528 (App. Div. 1985)). Consequently, courts "strain to give effect to the terms of a settlement wherever possible." Dep't of Pub. Advocate, supra, 206 N.J. Super. at 528.
In addition, a settlement agreement between parties to a lawsuit is a contract that, if freely entered into, should be honored and enforced by the courts like any other contract,
Pascarella v. Bruck, 190 N.J. Super. 118, 124-25 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 94 N.J. 600 (1983), and a party seeking to be relieved of her obligation under this contract must provide "clear and convincing proof" of "fraud or other compelling circumstances". Nolan v. Lee Ho, 120 N.J. 465, 472 (1990); De Caro v. De Caro, 13 N.J. 36, 43 (1953); Pascarella, supra, 190 N.J. Super. at 125. See also Smith v. Fireworks By Girone, Inc., 380 N.J. Super. 273, 291-92 (App. Div. 2005) (recognizing mutual mistake, undue haste, pressure, and unseemly conduct during negotiations among the "compelling circumstances" permitting a court to vacate a settlement agreement), certif. denied, 186 N.J. 243 (2006). Further, our courts have long required parties to expressly reserve the rights they wish to retain subsequent to settling their dispute, because otherwise, the execution of a general release estops the parties from thereafter asserting any and all "claims and demands due at the time of its execution and within the contemplation of the parties." Bilotti v. Accurate Forming Corp., 39 N.J. 184, 204 (1963). See, e.g., O'Leary v. Harris, 89 N.J.L. 671, 673-74 (E & A 1916); Cozzi v. Gov't Employees Ins. Co., 154 N.J. Super. 519, 524 (1977); Real Estate Fin. Co. v. Joseph H. Chamberlin, Inc., 118 N.J. Eq. 56, 59-60 (Ch. 1935).
Here, plaintiff did not reserve the right to challenge the partial summary judgment order. Plaintiff's secret, unexpressed intent to do so despite agreeing to "not seek anything further" is not a basis to grant relief from judgment. Domanske v. Rapid-American Corp., 330 N.J. Super. 241, 246 (App. Div. 2000). Additionally, there was ample evidence in the record to support the motion judge's conclusion that the agreement was entered into voluntarily and that plaintiff was clearly aware of its terms.
Plaintiff was an active participant in the negotiations leading up to the settlement. She handwrote modifications on the draft release, one admitting no liability for defendant's counterclaims, and another stating that her claims pertained to the 2002 accident only. The record also demonstrates that plaintiff was well aware that the partial summary judgment order would survive settlement, as evidenced by plaintiff's phone call to defendant's representative, pleading with defendant to agree to vacate the March 15, 2005 order. This telephone call was made after plaintiff had signed the $40,000 settlement check and after she had signed the releases.
Plaintiff's reliance upon Baxt v. Liloia, 155 N.J. 190 (1998) and In re Clausen Co., 81 B.R. 285 (Bankr. D.N.J. 1988), to support her claim that the motion judge erred in denying her motion for relief from judgment is misplaced. In Baxt, the parties reached a settlement in a foreclosure action, but the plaintiffs expressly reserved the right to seek attorney's fees, as well as the right to continue a separate lawsuit against their adversary's attorneys for tortious concealment of evidence and violations of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Baxt, supra, 155 N.J. at 193-96, 201. Despite upholding the dismissal of the underlying compliant, the Court held that the settlement agreement placed defendants on notice that the issue of attorney's fees remained outstanding. In addition, given what the Court found to be the "unique circumstances of [the] case [the Court]. . . permit[ted] plaintiffs to go forward with their reserved right to seek counsel fees by way of a motion pursuant to Rule 4:50-1(f)," notwithstanding the dismissal of the complaint. Id. at 210-11.
There are no such "unique circumstances" here. Plaintiff does not assert that her disclaimer of liability for counterclaims, which was added to the parties' mutual releases upon her request, amounts to a reservation of rights or serves as adequate "notice" that she intended to seek reconsideration of the court's order or to appeal the entry of the order.
Likewise, in In re Clausen Co., supra, the parties to a patent infringement litigation had entered into a settlement agreement under which the defendant agreed to cease manufacturing units that were "similar to" the plaintiff's patented unit and to pay plaintiff royalties for each similar unit it had manufactured. In re Clausen Co., supra, 81 B.R. at 287. The defendant then filed for bankruptcy and the plaintiff filed a proof of claim for instances of patent infringement arising after the settlement agreement and for violation of the agreement itself. Id. at 287-88.
As an affirmative defense, the defendant challenged the terms of the settlement agreement, claiming the language "similar to" constituted patent misuse. Id. at 288. The court agreed, holding that the settlement agreement did not estop the defendant from raising this affirmative defense because in patent misuse matters, judicial policy favoring enforcement of settlement agreements must give way to the policy favoring "free competition of ideas not meriting patent protection". Ibid. Here, the language of the settlement agreement did not give rise to a legal defense for plaintiff, nor to a competing policy concern that might overcome judicial policy favoring enforcement of settlement agreements.
Plaintiff claims that the order granting partial summary judgment was also entered in error because there were credibility issues which could not be resolved in a summary judgment motion. Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995). Plaintiff points to the fact that the judge reached her decision without consideration of a scintilla of evidence, in the form of depositions, affidavits or certifications, proving that defendant relied upon the "none" responses to the question of whether Clark had prior injuries. Plaintiff maintains that given the impact of the partial summary judgment order upon her professional reputation, relief under section 1(f) was warranted.
Relief under section 1(f) is considered extraordinary and should be granted sparingly. Hous. Auth. of Morristown, supra, 135 N.J. at 286; Eaton v. Grau, 368 N.J. Super. 215, 222 (App. Div. 2004). When plaintiff's counsel objected to the proposed form of order in his March 7 letter to the court, defense counsel responded that plaintiff's objections were more properly the subject of a motion for reconsideration pursuant to Rule 4:49-2. Moreover, the court, in its March 15 order, reiterated that plaintiff's objections should be addressed via formal motion for reconsideration. Inexplicably, no motion was filed, despite a representation that the motion would be filed and despite the fact that plaintiff was still represented by counsel and was apparently also in contact with the attorney who ultimately filed the motion seeking relief from judgment. Thus, the challenge to the judge's decision eight months later through a motion under section 1(f) of the rule was properly rejected.
To summarize, plaintiff has failed to show grounds for relief under Rule 4:50-1. There was no excusable neglect since her actions subsequent to the court's oral opinion demonstrated she knew of the consequences of her voluntary settlement. Likewise, in support of the motion plaintiff did not present any evidence that was not otherwise discoverable earlier. Finally, there were no exceptional circumstances. Despite representing that she planned to seek reconsideration of the court's decision, plaintiff decided to enter into a binding settlement which barred any further right to relief. Once plaintiff voluntarily, and with the assistance of counsel, entered into binding settlement, she relinquished the right to litigate any aspect of this matter without first seeking to vacate the settlement agreement. She declined to do so, thus the motion judge properly concluded that there was no basis to grant relief from judgment premised upon any of the grounds raised by plaintiff.
We have carefully considered plaintiff's remaining arguments in light of the record and applicable law. We conclude the contentions are without sufficient merit to warrant discussion in this opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E).